Utah judge says Constitution does not protect man’s right to marry several women

Friday, May 18, 2001
Judge Guy Burningham presides over the trial of polygamist Tom Green.

A state judge presiding over Tom Green’s polygamy trial in Provo, Utah, has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect the Mormon’s lifestyle.

“Religion … is not a defense in a criminal case,” 4th District Judge Guy Burningham told the jury earlier this week.

Green, a 52-year-old husband to five wives and father to at least 29 children, is charged with four counts of bigamy and failing to reimburse the state for more than $54,000 in government assistance. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

Green’s is the first polygamy case to be tried in Utah in almost half a century. Plural marriage is considered a crime under Utah’s Constitution.

The Mormon said that polygamy is a religious choice and that he shouldn’t be required to keep silent about his beliefs. Green has sought vast media attention and has defended his lifestyle on several TV talk shows.

In testimony yesterday, Green discussed his transformation from a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a believer in what he called “Mormon fundamentalism,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported today.

“The process began in my teens as I studied history … the history of my faith, the history of my state,” Green said. He said religious freedom protects his right to marry more than one woman.

Mormon pioneers accepted polygamy for several decades during the 1800s but they abandoned the practice in 1890. Today, members can be excommunicated from the church for practicing polygamy.

Green’s former attorney William Morrison testified that his client never thought he was legally married. “He didn’t believe he was married in the eyes of the state,” Morrison said. To make its bigamy case, the state must show that Green was married to one woman and cohabited with the others.

A 4th District judge ruled several months ago that Green’s marriage to his first wife, Linda Kunz, was still valid, despite an annulment, according to a May 14 article in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

Green has said that if the court decided he was legally married only to Linda Kunz, then the court can’t say he’s also legally married to other women, the Deseret News reported. Green officially divorced each woman in Nevada before marrying the next.

Green and his wives say they are married “spiritually.” Kunz said in a May 13 Deseret News article that she and the rest of Green’s wives are committed to each other. “If they take Tom away, that will be taking a big part of our family, but we’re not going to leave each other,” she said.

Yesterday, Green told the jury what drove his family to seek government assistance. He cried when he described the fire that killed his 3-year-old son and destroyed the family’s main trailer. The family’s second home was blown down by high winds, the Deseret News reported.

Green’s attorney, John Bucher, tried to show that Green did his best to provide for his family. Green, a magazine salesman, has said he used to make $50,000 a year and was able to provide adequately for his wives and children. His salary has dropped by half, he said, mainly because of the time he has dedicated to his defense, the article stated.

Green is charged in a separate case with child rape. Kunz was 13 when they married, but the age of parental consent for marriage in Utah was 14. Most of Green’s wives were 14 and 15 when Green married them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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